Space & Time

With a title like this you might wonder if I’m going to go off on some rant about a Stephen Hawkins book or some Einstein theory but …not! I was putting together a new PC based DAW to evaluate this week, and in the process (somewhere after reformatting about a dozen times, and flashing new bios, and reading about 20 manuals, and loading all the software over and over, to get a nice, fast, clean install) I started thinking, what do I really need, as far as studios go.

With the incredible advances in computer processors, bussing, hard drives, etc., the main components (mixer, recorder, fx) of the studios are becoming available to anyone with a few thousand dollars to spend. As I tested the new system, (which was playing back over 100 tracks of audio, and with all the processing I normally use making my records, still handling over 50 channels. All on a $1500 computer.) I figured I could build 3 of these with 40 channels of I/O, keep an eight I/O system at home, give an eight I/O system to my assistant to work on, and keep a 24 I/O system at the studio, and still not spend half of what I spent on the first new 24 track I bought almost 20 years ago!

Given the fact that technology is destroying the line between pro gear and the ole “semi-pro” equipment, what do the studios have to offer? I’ve thought about this for quite some time, since I have been on both sides of the fence for many years. Being a commercial studio owner and essentially a “project studio” owner and record producer (I booked the studio for myself about 90% of the time and used mostly “the bleeding-edge-of-technology” gear not common to most commercial rooms), I’ve reached the conclusion that… I should step back and try to look at it from the artist’s perspective! After all, it’s the artist who is really the client; he/she pays all the bills, risks their career, and puts their name on the front cover. Dey is da Boss!

So what do I want now? I want the space to perform in that sounds great. I want the right “Vibe” or environment to be comfortable in and do my best work. I want time to create my masterpiece. I want my record to sound great. And oh yeah, I want to be able to recoup without having to sell a million albums! There are probably plenty more (You da Producer, so produce me a bottle o’ wine! Sorry, old joke) but those should be enough to deal with.

1- Provide a “great acoustical space” large enough to track all the players that I need. That seems to be a plus for a traditional studio, but that great acoustical space for a vocal may be a bedroom, or a great space to do a thrash band may be an old warehouse or garage, so it may not be a total plus.

2- Provide the right “environment”. This seems like another plus for the traditional room, provided they have the people and service to deliver a great workplace. But some artists I’ve worked with felt intimidated by the studio, too “sterile” or just not intimate enough to feel comfortable. So maybe cutting an acoustic track in front of a fireplace or a vocal in the tile shower might provide the right “Vibe”.

3- Time! Now that’s a tough one. If I can afford the cost and it meets the other desires, a traditional room is fine. But if the vibe is right and the sound of the space is cool, time is much cheaper out of the “studio”. It could be another tie here, but maybe budget favors the “project” type situation.

4- Create a “great sounding” record. Well, tracking in a traditional studio on a killer board, with a mic locker full of vintage mics, and a rack full of cool compressors and gear, is pretty hard to beat. But doing overdubs with one mic, a mic pre and a compressor, just doesn’t require all the other toys. This also points back to the first three points because it’s not just equipment that make it sound great, it’s the right space, the right feel, and the time to discover and create it.

5- Money! Ok I think I gotta give this one to the “project” style studio. Although with the competitive nature of the studio business in some markets, there are some unbelievable values to be had at many commercial studios. As a producer I believe that it’s impossible to budget a great performance, since I’ve had $20 vocals and $2000 vocals that absolutely moved me. So what do you think I should budget for a vocal?

Trying to tie this all together, it seems to me that tracking in a traditional studio, overdubs and edits in a “project” room, and mixing …um…well…depending on the monitor situation…analog or digital…budget…um…well…Honey, what do you think…oh damn, gotta go now. Decisions, decisions, see time is money! Or is it space is expensive?

Michael D. Clute
Ego-maniac /Gear-slut / Producer /Engineer
Often found mumbling to himself in studio “caves” in Nashville.